This note and the printed Psalm under it have been hanging on the mirror of my dresser for almost six years. It has been there through three moves and countless dustings. You can’t really tell from the picture, but the note is from my oldest daughter. She taped it there along with the Psalm during the summer of 2007, before she left to go home and after she had thoroughly cleaned our house and done all of our laundry. She was trying to remind me about things we had learned together. Now, it was time to put the lesson into practice. This was during the long and arduous period before my cancer treatment began, during the days when I was going to the hospital several times a week for tests and scans and various evaluations, procedures and meetings. Amy was the family rock in the storm. She came to Reidsville from her home near Fayetteville and bossed everyone around. When you are out in the middle of a thick fog, you need someone to tell you which way to go. When your world is reeling, you’ve got to have someone to remind you to eat and sleep and even when to swallow and breathe. Amy did that for us.
The Psalm is number 91. We memorized it as a family back in our homeschooling days in Texas. I usually had the kids memorize in the NIV, but in this case, the King James is too beautiful to miss, so we learned it by heart with all the thees and thous. The children didn’t seem to have any problem with understanding. I recall one day in particular–April 19, 1993. We stopped by my in-law’s home early in the afternoon and found them in front of the television. The Branch Davidian compound was on fire down in Waco. I gasped as I entered the room and saw the screen. My oldest son, about to turn eight, came up behind me and observed solemnly, “The destruction that wasteth at noonday!” Yeah, he got it.
This Psalm is special to our family for lots of reasons. It’s the one my father-in-law took with him into battle in World War II. It was with him as he fought his way across France after D-Day. It accompanied him as his unit took a hill just before the Germans broke through to begin the Battle of the Bulge, and I’m sure the words came into his mind as he sat up there on that hill, freezing in the snow, watching the lines of German troops stream around on every side, “A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand, but it shall not come nigh thee.” And it didn’t.
Last year, when our oldest son, namesake of his grandfather, was deployed to Afghanistan, my husband prayed Psalm 91 for him each morning. “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God in him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee…” And he did.
My husband’s morning ritual brought Psalm 91 back into focus for me. With David down range and my last cancer scans coming up in January, I decided in August to make it my start-of-class scripture. I have several reasons for beginning class with scripture. It establishes order and routine in my classroom, quiets my students down, brings the mind back on-line after the break between classes, and best of all, it leads to the memorization of God’s Word. Because my students are young, they memorize simply by daily repetition. It is fairly amazing to watch.
As a result, I have been saying Psalm 91 an average of five times every weekday since August. When I went in for my scans, my thoughts were swirling. I was very emotional and I was finding it difficult to focus. All through the process, while the IV dripped the contrast into my veins, while the machines whirred and flashed around me, the tears poured from my eyes and Psalm 91 went effortlessly through my mind in one continuous loop. Over and over and over, “Thou shalt not be afraid…for the pestilence that walketh in darkness…There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling….Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble…” And he was. “With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation.” And he did. Throughout the process, I was at rest in the fact that all is grace, that God is in control, that nothing will happen except those things that God calls good.
Last Monday my classes said Psalm 91 together for the last time. I will choose a new scripture for second semester. As we finished, a boy raised his hand. “I thought you would ask us to quote that for our oral exam.” I smiled, “No, that never entered my mind.” One of the girls piped up, “Well, can we say it for extra credit or something?” I smiled again, “No, learning this was simply for your edification.” “But,” she protested, “this is school. We are supposed to get rewarded for doing work!” I smiled a third time, “Someday, you will need Psalm 91, and when you do, it will be there for you. That is the best reward of all.”